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The Madonnas of Echo Park

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The Madonnas of Echo Park is both a grand mural of a Los Angeles neighborhood and an intimate glimpse into the lives of the men and women who struggle to lose their ethnic identity in the pursuit of the American dream. Each chapter summons a different voice—poetic, fierce, comic. We meet Hector, a day laborer who trolls the streets for work and witnesses a murder that pits his morality against his illegal status; his ex-wife Felicia, who narrowly survives a shooting and lands a cleaning job in a Hollywood Hills house as desolate as its owner; and young Aurora, who journeys through her now gentrified childhood neighborhood to discover her own history and her place in the land that all Mexican-Americans dream of, “the land that belongs to us again.”

Reminiscent of Luis Alberto Urrea and Dinaw Mengestu, The Madonnas of Echo Park is a brilliant and genuinely fresh view of American life.

199 pages, Hardcover

Published June 1, 2010

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About the author

Brando Skyhorse

7 books169 followers

Brando Skyhorse is the author of the memoir "Take This Man" to be published by Simon and Schuster on June 3rd, 2014.

Brando Skyhorse’s debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, received the 2011 Pen/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The book was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. He has been awarded fellowships at Ucross and Can Serrat, Spain. Skyhorse is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at UC Irvine. He is the 2014 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University.

Find out more at brandoskyhorse.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 398 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
January 7, 2020
I've been accompanying major home cleaning projects with audiobooks so my dogs and I both listened to this one, a novel of connected stories from different points of view, most of them from the traditionally Mexican neighborhood of Echo Park, displaced by Dodger Stadium and surrounding gentrification. Strong voice, great in audio, a few racist terms that are uncomfortable but probably accurate for the characters using them.

“There is no elegy for those who have been dispossessed of their anger.”
(Yo Soy el Army)
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
January 3, 2022
“The more you lose, the more American you can become.”

Madonnas of Echo Park, set in Echo Park, Los Angeles in the 1950s, is an absolutely fabulous book about the American dream, and the experiences of Mexican Americans within said dream. It features eight overlapping sections, each following different characters.

[Mild spoilers below.]

Section one follows Hector, a farmer and witness to a murder; section two, Felicia, a maid and Hector’s wife; three, Beatriz, her mother, who sees the Virgin Mary; four, Efren, a bus driver; five, Manny, father to Juan and son of the Alm-killer; six, Freddy, convict dating Christina, the mother to Angie and wife to Juan, as he gets on the bus; seven, Angie, daughter of Hector, new best friend to Duchess, and ex-best friend of Aurora; and finally, eighth, Aurora herself, as she goes to see her mother Felicia, grandmother Beatriz, and Angie.

The power of this book comes in its intertwining narrative, one that you cannot see building until it has already crawled up around you, burrowing into your lungs. Though the writing is beautiful and each individual character has their time to shine—I especially loved Felicia’s section two and Angie’s section seven—it is when the novel all comes together that it truly tosses punches.

I genuinely loved this book, and would absolutely recommend giving it a read.


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Profile Image for Madeline Knight-Dixon.
171 reviews20 followers
July 24, 2012
This is one of those books that is constantly making you think, and constantly realize how ignorant Americans are. It’s about Echo Park, a Latino neighborhood in LA that is predominately Mexican. One of the chapters focuses on illegal workers, how terribly their treated and how much they are looked down upon even from people in their own community. The novel constantly struggles with are you a Mexican-American, or an American-Mexican.

At its core, the book is about identity. Can you escape your cultural identity, or do you have to live in the space created by your race? Do you have to fit into the gender roles your culture gives you? What about the expectations your family has for you? Each character that narrates the book is striving to answer these questions, and figure out how to live their lives with what they have been given.

It’s also about the interconnectedness of communites. Without knowing it, each person in the novel is connected to each other. Whether it’s through chance encounters, family ties, relationships gone wrong, or violent crimes, they all have influenced each other’s lives. There may not be a moral message in this, but it’s important to note nonetheless that no matter how hard you try you can’t escape from your roots.

Throughout the story, there’s the smallest touches of mysticism. A sighting of the Virgin Mary, “the Lord” who frequents the neighborhood, a flower that’s omnipresent. It becomes not a novel about religion, but a novel about faith, and finding that faith in your own way. Faith can come in any form, from hard work to cynacism, but allowing yourself something to believe in that is greater than yourself.

It’s a beautiful book, and while it is an extremely important work of contemporary Latin American literature, it’s also an important book aboutlife.That’s what I find so perfect, is that it transcends the label people attempt to put on it. It’s staggering and moving, human beyond the concept of race.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,337 reviews694 followers
September 24, 2015
For me, this novel is an eye-opening read of the Mexican American community. It’s author, Brando Skyhorse writes in his author’s notes (which were in the beginning of the novel, which I LOVE), that he wrote this novel as a “forgive me” note to a twelve year old girl whom he disrespected in 6th grade. Beyond that, Skyhorse wanted to give voice to the Mexican American community who grew up in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles during the 1950’s to the present. All the stories are basically true, drawn from his childhood memories. All the people who’s voices he used wanted to make it clear that “he or she was a proud American FIRST, an American who happened to be Mexican, not the other way around.” Also, this is an illuminating read of those Mexican Americans who want to just stay in the country. It isn’t about the struggles of how they got here. It’s more about their life here and what they do to stay.

Each chapter is about a character, told in that character’s voice. Each character’s story ties to other character’s storylines so there is a flow. Through each character, Skyhorse is able to highlight different struggles, attitudes, events that the community feels while trying to assimilate to the American Culture. It’s the Latino story of Echo Park.

Skyhorse’s writing style is easy to read. He’s telling stories. There isn’t significant prose involved. What is involved is stories that will change the way you see Mexican Americans. Books that illuminate and alter perceptions are phenomenal in that alone. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Leonard.
Author 6 books105 followers
November 23, 2014
The Madonnas of Echo Park tells the stories of Mexicans who struggle through their daily lives in Echo Park, a section of Los Angeles. The book starts with "We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours," and ends with "This is the land that we dream of, the land that belongs to us again." A summary of the characters' attitudes toward the land they love and struggle to claim as their home.

Echo Park
Echo Park (Photo by User2004 at Wikimedia Common)

For a migrant worker, "I have no heartbreaking story of the journey here; the heartbreaking journey is here, in this small couple of square miles of land called Echo Park." And for the bus driver, "America is there for the taking if you aren't lazy and have no qualms about the kind if work you do." Succinct descriptions of their lives in the United States. They are among those who know that life is tough but also that America is the land of opportunities.

At the same time, Skyhorse shows his witticism when he said, through another character that "Catholicism gives everyone something to feel ashamed about." And the lady of the house spoke broken English to the maid, believing the latter doesn't understand a word. When in fact the maid understands the mistress and was learning English through her daughter. These bits of humor modulate the gravity of the subject matter.

Through the book, Mr. Skyhorse gives voice to the voiceless and shape to the invisible. And he fills the writing with insights into the dynamics between these invisible people and the country that they seek to claim as home.
Profile Image for Anna at A Wondrous Bookshelf.
296 reviews100 followers
April 24, 2020
The Madonnas of Echo Park is a collection of short stories by Mexican American writer Brando Skyhorse. Although I seldom review short stories on this blog, I couldn't pass on the opportunity to pay homage to such beautiful work of literature.

Having won both the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, this novel really lives up to its hype. Each chapter is a different story told in first person in a beautifully crafted prose highlighting the intersections and clashes of American and Mexican culture. 

In Los Angeles, you could rent an apartment, buy groceries, cash checks, and socialize, all in Spanish.

The Madonnas of Echo Park tells the stories of Mexican Americans in the constantly changing landscape of Los Angeles's Echo Park neighborhood, a predominantly Latino community. This novel compiles a collection of interrelated stories that are heavily character-driven and that leave you contemplating the themes present in each story long after you finish reading the book.

“Faith is a luxury for those who are able to ignore what the rest of us must see every day. Pessimism, distrust, and irony are the holy trinity of my religion, irony in particular.”

“The time between your first major fight with your best friend until you make up is, for a teenage girl, about as long as it took for God to create the universe. . . . It's excellent training for having a boyfriend.”
Profile Image for Stacy.
24 reviews
August 25, 2016
More like 3.5. Interconnected stories set in Los Angeles. The vivid descriptions of the world the characters live in held my attention but not always the stories. I heard this on audiobook so I feel that played a factor in my rating. I feel like this will be a re-read for me in print. However, Mr. Skyhorse is a storyteller. I look forward to his next novel.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,673 reviews280 followers
December 10, 2014

Brief news flash: Both of my cataract surgeries are now complete. I can see everything without glasses! Well, except for small print close up in poorly lit places, for which I use those reading glasses you can buy at pharmacies. I am so happy!

Now onto my review. Except for a trip on the week of Christmas, I shall be posting regularly again. Thank you for your patience.

My hand-crafted, boutique, and very special Tiny Book Group is on a project to read books set in Los Angeles. All three of us are from elsewhere, having come to LA in middle age. Echo Park is a Los Angeles neighborhood that began as a Mexican ghetto and has lately succumbed to gentrification. Brando Skyhorse grew up in Echo Park in the 1980s.

His truly wonderful novel is a successful example of a novel written as a series of collected stories featuring characters who appear again and again. By the end you know how they are connected through family and events.

"We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours." There is so much history in that opening sentence. It took my breath away. But history is the last thing on the minds of Skyhorse's characters. Their minds are crowded with fears of deportation, struggles to learn English, make a living, and assimilate.

Every living American today, except for Native Americans, is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. I wonder how many immigrant novels have been written here. Brando Skyhorse (descended from Mexicans but raised to think that his Native American step-father was his biological father) took this often told story and made it pulse with sights, smells, tastes, loves, deaths, and the infinite variety of human longings.

To see images of the following locations and get the link to the video mentioned below please go to my blog: http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com.

The Tiny Book Group met in Echo Park to discuss the book. We ate lunch at Xoia Vietnamese Eats.
We got pastries at Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Cafe.
We strolled to Echo Park Lake to eat our treats,
then to Stories Books to choose our next read.
All the while we talked about the book and wondered, "Where have all the Mexicans gone?"

Part of the answer can be found in this video, but most of the answers have been encapsulated in The Madonnas of Echo Park.

One more thing: reading and learning about the incident that inspired the book's title was a little piece of literary magic.
Profile Image for Daisy .
1,113 reviews52 followers
July 10, 2011
I'm ready to dance with you, Aurora. I hope you understand why I need to say that to you here, in this way: because a work of fiction is an excellent place for a confession. p. xx

A novel that feels like short stories or a collection tied together by recurring characters to shape it into a novel. In each chapter you meet a character who later is the centerpiece of another chapter. If you don't read this fast enough, you might forget who's who--or at least I did, with my shoddy memory. I had to page back to remind myself what I'd learned already about some of them so I could apply new information.
It starts out clean and strong. I think the first two chapters are my favorites. The last one, unfortunately, is the busiest with symbols and chaos and sentimentality and a rushed sense of trying to bring the novel all together. But the characters are sympathetic and well-drawn. I wish in a way the author had picked one and stayed with her longer.
You get a strong sense of neighborhood, of how it was and of what it's becoming. The lights and sounds and walls and jacaranda trees of Los Angeles are vivid.
I wonder what it's like to read this having no knowledge of Echo Park. Just coincidentally, I'd been there the day I began this book. In fact, I climbed up the concrete stairs towards the house of someone I was meeting in Echo Park, and I sat at the top in the shade waiting for her reading this book. It couldn't have been more fitting.
It's romantic and it's real. And it's actually important learning about this community of Mexicans-who-were-born-here.
3.78 stars
Profile Image for Luke Schwiebert.
58 reviews4 followers
May 8, 2013
This book will surprise you. Not in its themes or its writing style (though the former are important and the latter is excellent), but in it's presentation: every single chapter is told by a different character. This isn't made obvious at first, so you may get thrown for a loop at the beginning of Chapter 2, but once you figure it out, it really works.

I've read some other reviews that say that Madonnas "isn't really a novel, more like a short story collection." I guess that's true on its face, since every individual chapter has a beginning, middle, and end, but the stories are all clearly meant to be read together. On their own, they would feel inconclusive and fairly pointless; only when they're tied together, and read in their proper designated order, do they fill out a full story. The book is especially interesting in the ways the stories tie together. Sometimes it's obvious - one's told by a mother, and the next, by her daughter, for instance - but others feel totally unrelated, until a shocking hammer of a line reveals the integral part that the protagonist plays in the overall story.

These masterfully interwoven tales tell the story of Echo Park, a place that many people may not have even heard of - I'm an Angeleno and I've never even been there! - but which has made it's immortal mark on the people that lived there. These characters may be fictional (save for Aurora Esparanza, who's based on a girl that Skyhorse used to know), but the people are real, and it's about time their stories were told.
Profile Image for Tattered Cover Book Store.
720 reviews2,110 followers
June 21, 2010
Jackie says:

This book had me from the author's note, which begins, "This book was
written because of a twelve-year-old girl named Aurora Esperanza." It
seems that he, who was also 12 at the time, had said something terrible to her and then never saw her again, so was unable to apologize to her directly. He had to find a different way to apologize, and now, 25 years later, he has. In the form of this book. "I'm ready to dance with you, Aurora. This is my confession. I hope you understand why I need to say this here, to you, in this way: because a work of fiction is an excellent place for a confession."

Aurora is one of the many reoccurring characters in this collection of
stories from different times through different eyes of the same
neighborhood in East LA. This book is a fascinating patchwork of
interwoven (whether they know it or not) lives and experiences that show what it is to be Mexican-American in LA (and perhaps anywhere).
Skyhorse introduces us to characters who may only be a brief part of any given story but linger in the reader's mind long after the covers close on the book. This is a powerhouse debut novel that introduces us to a writer of rare skill--we WILL be hearing much more about him soon.
Profile Image for C.
697 reviews
March 18, 2011
Gosh, I really wanted to like this book, but I couldn't even finish it. The primary word that I keep thinking of to describe this book is "inartful." It is SO awfully and badly executed, in its voices, character descriptions, plot development, everything. It is also inconsistent and hard to follow! Did anyone edit this book?! Here's a one example of many: One chapter is written from the voice of an older Latina woman (another is uninterestingly written from the voice of a self-hating American-born Mexican-American, yawn). She is having a conversation with a priest about a vision she had of the Virgin Mary. The priest begins asking her questions, "not a trace of disbelief or suspicion in his voice." Seven lines later, the priest says, "I see. And where did this 'meeting' take place?" Don't those single quotes indicate some sort of disbelief?! Anyway, that's a minor complaint, but suffice to say that it is hard to tell the tone of many of the conversations in the book and even hard to tell what the hell is happening at key moments sometimes. Bad.

Also, is this cover design not the worst thing EVER?
Profile Image for Mandee.
30 reviews9 followers
October 19, 2010
I'm really torn with how to rate this book.

The bookcover says The Madonnas of Echo Park A Novel, but in this case I think the A Novel add-on is subjective. It's really a collection of short stories at most, and in my opinion it's probably not even quite that. Each chapter is written from a different character's POV, but each chapter is not a full story, short or otherwise. Each character may or may not have some connection to another chapter's character, however slight it may be. I realize this is starting to sound like I despised the book but that's not completely true. Some of the chapters were interesting. In fact, some of the chapters were good enough for me to rate 3.5 or 4 stars if the book would have ended up having a story in it. Apparently some people think the story was written in a similar style as the movie Crash, and I can see how they could think that, because each character usually related to someone else in the book in some way, but from what I remember of Crash all the seemingly unrelated characters ended up coming together to play a part in an actual story with a climax (symbolic and literal crash) and with a point to the story. I didn't feel that way with The Madonnas of Echo Park. I felt like it didn't really matter that one character dated another character's former best friend because there was no real revelation or meaning behind connecting them. Generally it didn't even improve either story either. And the same goes for most of the other characters' connections.

What was apparent was that the author wanted to show the evolution of a location: the Echo Park (and Chavez Ravine) neighborhood of LA, and how that evolution effected the Mexican immigrants who lived there. It is literally just about the Mexican immigrants, though. At certain points he acknowledges that not only Mexicans inhabit this area, but all his characters are Mexican. The author did a decent job at showing this evolution through his different characters' voices. Not only that, but once I realized that every new chapter meant a new POV I thought he did a decent job at creating a distinct and realistic voice for some of the characters too, be them younger, older, male, or female.

The book starts off with a long author's note that made me think of something interesting. He talks about how he did something bad to one of his classmates and he wanted to apologize to her but he was never able to because she didn't return to school after their holiday break. It was what he felt about what he did that struck me as interesting. He apparently felt a cultural and socioeconomic divide with his other classmates. He got MTV before everyone else and therefore was exposed to English and American pop music when most of his other classmates were still listening to Spanish music or old music. When his class decided to have a dance he didn't want to look too uppity so he brought a single of something, I don't remember what, but one of the girls, Aurora, brought Madonna's full album. She was the first to put her's on and she put on Borderline, which was apparently a huge deal in LA at the time because of the video or something having a chola vibe to it. Well, I guess what happened was, he was expected to dance with her by the teacher or something, but he didn't think that was a good idea. The music was starting and they were in place but instead of dancing with her he said, "I can't dance with you because you're Mexican." She was apparently speechless or something and why not, because some kid, who is also Mexican, btw, just told her she wasn't good enough to dance with not because he didn't like her but because of something she could do nothing about, her ethnicity. Too bad she didn't think to say, And what the hell do you think you are??? But honestly, I kinda related to his story.

I lived in Signal Hill in Long Beach (about as close to LA is it gets as far as I know) for a few years growing up from about the age of 7 to 9 or so. And the school I went to was dominantly black and white with a few token latinos and asians. My brother and I being two of about four or five of noticably latino decent (we're half and halfers.) Anyway, what I'm getting at is that for some reason at this point in my life I didn't realize I was any different from whoever I was with at any given time. If I was talking to one of my black friends I thought I was the same as her, if I was with one of my white friends I thought I was just like her. I truly didn't realize we were different. And at some point during third grade I realized I didn't look like my mom. So I asked her, "Why don't I look like you?" She asked me what I meant and I said, "Why is my skin darker than yours?" And do you know what she told me? She said, because you're tanned. (!) Because I was outside all the time. (!) And so I said, "Well I'm gonna stay inside then because I wanna look like you!" (I was so sincere too!) We kept talking about it some more, but I find this so funny and outrageous now! But the point is, I didn't realize I was Latina either. Unlike the author, though, I was never told that I was better than any other ethnic group, thank goodness. The funny thing is, my mom was right! My skin really was that color because I was tanned! Now my skin is really not much different than my mom's except it has an olive tone to her peachy one, but if you put our hands side by side the color shade is very, very close. All my other features are very ethnic though :).
Profile Image for Ted Guevara.
Author 11 books295 followers
July 3, 2014
I have officially read a rejuvenated John Updike in The Madonnas of Echo Park. I’ve long followed such fluency throughout my life and career, and now it protrudes its head again in an ethnically-bound novel. Though the book is divided in eight compartments (plus the pulse of the story which is “Author’s Note")—or maybe they’re apartments where the windows are jacaranda blossom-colored through the eyes of the deeply smitten reader—the links between them are expressively cool, subtle. The language is erudite, eclectic prose; mainstream to those who passionately crave such poetry.

There is milieu in Echo Park, California. Its portrayed residents—a homely housekeeper, her outgoing daughter, Aurora, a father struggling to make ends meet while avoiding deportation, and other teenaged girls who seem to mark places up the range of Americanization—are cornered in familiar situations that put a strain on a standard culture. One can ticket a drive-by shooting as far worse than choosing who to kick out from a bus to avoid mob upheaval. But that choice still depends on majority, not on right and wrong. Message to the human condition is flung when the bus driver gets off and meets a hypersensitive allegiance to race anyway. This is existentialism in Echo Park, one that cannot be escaped even through stained glass.

I have my own ordeal in labeling characters; I do not. The author here is more of a realist and do. It is perhaps pragmatic for him to describe because this is where he grew up and how. Deal with it and confront the imperfection with the musical flow of his narrative. Yes, and that Madonna reference, that could only be hoisted from that once ever-changing image of her, from what is stagnant in Echo Park—the struggles and pains of a variegated group still trying to avoid the label “displaced.”

I’ve read a lot of Updike. It’s good to see him revived and take up the penname of Brando Skyhorse.

(Yet, Mr. Skyhorse, you don't have to "slip into" this remarkable new voice for it is your very own.)

Profile Image for Chris.
526 reviews82 followers
May 16, 2014
I found this to be an interesting companion piece to Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, which I read earlier this year, but my opinion of this book may have suffered by the comparison. I do enjoy the concept of interrelated stories that create an overall novel-like effect and it has been used to memorable effect by Saroyan (The Human Comedy) and Steinbeck (Tortilla Flat and The Pastures of Heaven).

I will start out by saying that I enjoyed at least half of these stories very much. The Blossoms of Los Feliz, Our Lady of the Lost Angels, Rules of the Road, Yo Soy El Army and The Hustler were quite good. The others I felt tried a bit too hard to force something extraordinary to come out of very ordinary characters and situations, which just didn’t work for me. The obsessions of teenaged girls with pop stars that drive several of the other stories didn’t resonate with me and the last (and in my opinion the weakest) story in the work, La Luz y La Tierra, seemed to be a conscious (and rather long) attempt to gather all of the story lines together when it just wasn’t necessary. In the weaker stories I felt that I was being beaten over the head with the “message” that I was expected to take away.

Tortilla Flat deals with the same ethnic group at a different place in the history of California, yet Steinbeck brings a mythical air and humor to the lives of these characters that is lacking in Skyhorse’s work, which is admittedly more current and gritty, but also more deliberate and lacks the master’s subtle touch. But considering that this is Skyhorse’s first novel the jacket blurb to the effect that we may be witnessing the coming of a top notch new literary talent may well be true. I certainly plan on following this author.
Profile Image for Robert Starner.
53 reviews1 follower
July 29, 2011
This is a book that I will definitely need to revisit. I am not sure that it got my undivided attention, and this book respectfully commands and deserves it. The author presents a kaleidoscope of imagery and characters that populate the ethnic neighborhood of Echo Park buried in downtown L.A. Much like the movie Crash, Skyhorse weaves and interconnects the stories of many inhabitants of Echo Park through familial and non-familial relationships with one of the main events involving the driveby shooting that kills a young girl who is celebrating Madonna's Borderline video outside the mercado where part of the video was originally shot. The characters are well crafted and the incidents that tie the characters together are greatly intriquing. I did repeatedly find the beginnings of some of the vignettes confusing and somewhat hard to follow and that would not gain my immediate interest. But several of the tales are redeemed within the last third and become quite riveting. The author's note at the beginning is quite an alluring tale, but it is also part of the fiction of the novel and not knowing this at the beginning definitely altered my view of the novel and the author, and not necessarily to the better. So well I am judgmental here, I will revisit this book a bit later and definitely block out as many distractions as possible to give it a more focused read.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,529 reviews11 followers
January 8, 2020
this is a collection of vignettes of various residents of echo park - a neighborhood in los angeles.
the book deals with the complexities of growing up Mexican in America. skyhorse touches on topics such as immigration, gang violence, single motherhood and assimilation.

each chapter is an individual's story that is seemingly disconnected from the others, but all of the characters are inter-related, in the same way that humanity is all connected regardless of heritage.
Profile Image for Loretta Gaffney.
108 reviews9 followers
November 13, 2014
Kind of uneven, but lyrical writing and interesting descriptions of Echo Park (Los Angeles). Reminiscent of the House on Mango Street. I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much if I wasn't familiar with the neighborhood and L.A.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
August 6, 2011
Echo Park, the Los Angeles neighborhood down the hill from Chavez Ravine, is the setting for Brando Skyhorse's interconnected story collection, The Madonnas of Echo Park. (I think Brando Skyhorse may be one of the coolest names I've ever heard for an author.)

The characters in Skyhorse's stories are Mexican-Americans of varying ages who are trying to fit in with or rebel against their culture and their neighborhood. Many of the characters are the types of people we pass by every day—cleaning women, bus drivers, day laborers, ex-convicts and teenagers—but Skyhorse brings each to life by wrapping us up in their stories. There's Felicia, who finds herself cleaning house for a family more damaged than she bargained for; Angie, who is reminiscing about her life-changing, fractious relationship with her teenage best friend; Efren, a bus driver who has always prided himself on his staunch devotion to rules and regulations, until one night; Hector, a migrant worker who is forced into covering up a murder; and many others.

Some of the stories in this collection truly moved me, some intrigued me and all but one compelled me to keep reading. Skyhorse created some complicated, multi-layered characters; even when they fall closer to stereotypes, I still found myself invested in what was happening to them. I never felt as if the way he connected the stories was too forced; at times, when I recognized the connections I was even a bit surprised (and even awed, once or twice). I look forward to seeing what comes next in his career, and I definitely recommend this book if you enjoy short stories.
7 reviews
March 25, 2012
The Madonnas of Echo Park is a must read for anyone curious about an increasingly diverse U.S. society. Skyhorse skillfully brings readers into Echo Park, and offers a holistic perspective on the many challenges its population faces. He develops a plot line that reads almost like a movie - each character's chapter/story seems unique and more revealing than the ones before until, suddenly, one realizes that the current narrator is actually the previous narrator's mother and a later character-narrator's grandmother. In addition to fantastic, believable, yet sometimes magically real prose, Skyhorse incorporates a number of contemporary social issues that affect all people, but especially some of the nation's most vulnerable and already disfavored populations. Without casting judgment or imposing his own opinions on readers, Skyhorse manages to comment on a number of hot-button topics, such as immigration, gentrification, and jobs, and effectively raise people's awareness. Overall, I thought The Madonnas of Echo Park was a wonderful novel because it transported me into a world from seven different passageways (distinct lives), and incorporated a number of social issues I am curious and passionate about.

Favorite quotes:

“There were many bosses to practice my English on, and while I’d never command the language the way my daughter would, I could speak it as well as a man making a promise – that is, with equal doses of earnestness and desperation, along with enough wiggle room to escape out of a commitment by feigning a misunderstanding,” (Skyhorse 52).

“Faith is a luxury for those who are able to ignore what the rest of us must see everyday,” (Skyhorse 156).
Profile Image for Toni.
246 reviews40 followers
June 8, 2010
I have been talking a lot about this book at work because it just excites me. One of the marketing blurbs about it that I read said that it will do for Mexican-Americans what Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which I LOVED) did for Dominican-Americans. What that means is that there isn't a lot of mainstream fiction that displays the lives of the various ethnic communities in this country. Especially of the non-white ones.

What makes this book special is the author's note at the beginning that explains the childhood incident that provoked Skyhorse to write these stories. It is brilliant and that's all I will say about that.

The Madonnas of Echo Park is a collection of related, intertwined short stories that follow the lives of the Mexican residents of this neighborhood, a community in Los Angeles. Yes, there are day-laborers, maids and bus drivers, but, like the neighborhoods we all live in, their lives and motivations are diverse. The one event that all of this revolves around is the accidental murder of a toddler in front of the local corner store.

The first line sets the tone - We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours.

I'm going to say this word again, Brilliant. Go buy this book right now.
88 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2019
A rich panorama of Los Angeles and its history. I recommend multiple reads to unpack all the intricate connections between its eight chapters/ stories.
500 reviews
February 21, 2019
This is a good book. Not sure if it’s really good or just good.

I’m not thrilled with the writing. Something about it just throws me. I think it’s the way he describes everything. It just feels disconnected or rough. I honestly don’t know what it is. There’s also his frequent use of cuss words. I mean, I get it, that’s how people talk. But I think this betrays one of the general guidlines of narrative: don’t tell me, show me. He seems to make too much of an effort to make the reader understand that “this is the way it is, okay?” But readers get it, most of us catch on pretty quick. Show, don’t tell. Cuss words don’t add much value, they distract without adding much. A well-placed cuss word can make a lot of sense. But unless the cussing is a core part of the narrative or structurally important to the narrative, cuss words just take away from the rhythm of the story. They’re meant to be used for their impact, their startling affect, or in order to show something important (unless they’re intrinsic to the narrative, in which case you might be using them constantly). But yeah, I think he tells too often, and I think his frequent use of cuss words reveals that because they’re not always being used effectively. I think it’s kind of like the writer who tries to use idiomatic language but uses it too often or without a clear why or simply inartfully, it just becomes distracting.

Like other reviewers, I too am somewhat flummoxed by the bus driver story. He does tie it in to the others, but not as strongly. Is he trying to add more color to the overall picture? Maybe. But yeah, that didn’t fit in as well.

I think I’m also a little disappointed that he doesn’t keep track of all the characters. Hector gets lost and we never see him again. I’m still unclear as to what happens to him? Does he get deported? Or prison? Idk. Maybe that’s my fault. Maybe I didn’t pay attention very well. The focus is primarily on the women in the story, which is fine, but he loses the other characters he brings in, and ultimately it feels like maybe he’s saying something about the men in this fictional/non-fictional Latino community????? Maybe that’s just an indirect result from losing contact with a couple of the important male characters.

So I’m somewhat ambilavent about the book because of these qualities.

At the same time, these stories do evoke feelings in me: loneliness, sadness, hope, love, peace, goodness, darkness, despair, anger.

I also like that he uses Spanish as well, because that helps bring us into the lives of his characters and who they are. I think he uses it fairly well, but here too sometimes I feel it is more of a distraction (usually when he uses a Spanish cuss word or euphemistic language). But I’m still glad he has it in there.

And he makes me wanna drive down to LA and visit these neighborhoods.

So I’m gonna give it 3.5.
Profile Image for Maureen.
208 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2020
My favorite book of the recent past. I loved every bit of it. His writing is mesmerizing...descriptive, sad, engrossing. Great character development and hook-in-mouth plot that made me not want to put it down. I loved the entertwining of stories.

This book is so precise on what I assume to be the immigrant experience in LA from all sides...everyone from the border jumper, to the children born here of immigrants, the ones that speak English and those that don't. The housekeepers, shop keepers, criminals and honest men just trying to provide for their family.

Truly a great book.
Profile Image for Mandy.
364 reviews4 followers
November 11, 2020
It’s taken me a while to finish the last bit of this book but I finally did.
It was a disappointment. Not a novel, rather a collection of short stories of characters who have a slight connection to each other. It was hard to keep everyone straight and it would often ramble about politics or history for page-length paragraphs.
It was confusing and a struggle to get through, sadly. There were a few good moments. Hector’s sad tale was a standout. The drive by shooting. I don’t like to regret spending money on books but since I do it so rarely, I want it to be worth it and this one was not.
Profile Image for Melissa.
443 reviews47 followers
August 7, 2021
Like There There this book follows characters that end up being intertwined. Unlike the other, much more lauded book, each character has a distinct voice and POV. Looking forward to more by this author. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Abhi.
6 reviews2 followers
December 8, 2020
Artful, if a tiny bit cliché, unapologetically Brown, and a little cutting as all good novels are.
Profile Image for Aldon Hynes.
Author 2 books11 followers
March 26, 2022
This is a wonderful exploration of the life of Hispanic immigrants in a gentrifying neighborhood in Los Angeles. Like other polyphonic novels that have been grabbing my attention recently, it weaves together many intriguing perspectives.
151 reviews21 followers
October 2, 2021
Very lyrically written. The author certainly has a way with words. It was very sad at times...but the resilience was inspiring and not surprising. Growing up in East San Jose...I saw it first hand in my neighborhoods.
298 reviews3 followers
January 1, 2011
This review is full of spoilers, so just a heads up, in case you want to read it. Like the jacket says, this guy is really reminiscent of Sherman Alexie (one of my top favorite authors) and Junot Diaz (only read one of his, but loved it). The story of existing in America, specifically LA, as a Mexican. When I started the second chapter, I thought oh, this is a collection of short stories. So it took me a minute to figure out that there are common characters weaving through the chapters; each chapter has a different narrator. Some were more compelling than others. I would say that overall it's a great read, in that aching, sad but beautiful kind of way. But beware there's some pretty graphic violence in it seemed like every chapter.

Some of the scenes that were memorable: when Aurora goes back to her Mom's house to help her clean, and she's cleaning their family pictures on the mantel. Back in high school, her Mom had taken a scissors and cut her father out of all the pictures. "That jagged space where my father used to be never looked right. When I was in high school, I overlaid Morrissey's image from glossy magazines into shots where my mother was holding on to a headless neck or kissing a crisp rip in front of a a tree that had been sliced in half. I pasted in Morrissey's picture because he was the kind of man who would never leave my mother, or abandon a child. His songs contain stories of endless devotion and his incapability of being loved by anyone. Why not give him, then, to someone who no longer had anyone to give her love to? Judging from these photos, Morrissey was a better father than my own was." (p 155)

Or when the Virgin Mary appears to the lonely older woman Beatriz: "There in the doorway of a block-long ninety-nine-cent store stood a shiny-faced teenage girl in ankle-length blue slacks and a matching blue coat spotted with a constellation of translucent stars, flat nurse's shoes, a red scarf wrapped around her head in the shape of a circlet to protect her fair skin from the sun, and a white lamb's-wool sweater with a fraying ring of delicate gold thread across her chest. There was nothing remarkable about her clothes--you'd find them at las tiendas descuentas up and down the block--but a young woman wearing such an old lady's outfit?... Plus it was a Tuesday--nobody's idea of a holy day. When I turned to look, she was walking alongside me, a beatific smile on her face, one that for a moment made me forget my wariness of strangers, the only people I mistrust more than my relatives." (p 60)

Some other quotes:

--"Cons make the best letter writers because inside every man is a poet. You just have to throw him in jail to find it." (p 112)

--About new friendships: "That wasn't me, so we stopped hanging out. It's okay, though, because you need to change your friends once in a while. That's how you become the person you're meant to be... the moment that pushes your friendship into something deeper, from friend to best friend, can't be seen when it's happening." (p 132-133)

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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